Picap’s CEO, Experience Running Business in LATAM – Daniel Rodriguez, Low Gravity Ep 5

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By Jonathan Calmus

Apr 02, 2020

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On this episode of Low Gravity Jonathan Calmus and Daniel Rodriguez, Founder of Picap, speak about growing a startup from idea to acquisition, daily routines, personal care and the impostor syndrome. Daniel shares how he was able to leverage low cost techniques to test and validate ideas prior to spending on engineering.

To learn more about Daniel check out his Linkedin.

To learn more about Picap.

To learn more about Cosmic and to become a Mobility Partner: https://cosmicgo.co/partners

Low Gravity: A Cosmic Podcast

Episode 5 – Daniel Rodriguez

Jonathan Calmus: Hello. Hello. This is Jonathan Calmus, your host of Low Gravity, a Podcast brought to you by Cosmic. We’re sitting here in the Picap Offices in Bogota. It’s a little noisy, which is a really good sign. It means that there’s something happening here. And I’m sitting here with the CEO and cofounder, Daniel Rodriguez Mendez. Hello.

Daniel Rodriguez: Hello. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for coming.

Jonathan Calmus: Thank you for having me. In our typical fashion, I kind of forced you in this I’ll admit it.

Daniel Rodriguez: That’s a surprise, but I’m glad.

Jonathan Calmus: Okay, good. I wanted to have you on our podcast, we typically talk about, as I said, mobility tech, the start-up hustle. For me, Picap is one of the most interesting mobility companies out there right now. I like the approach you guys took. I liked that you took kind of a growth hacking approach to an incredibly crowded space and a very difficult space on a global level. What inspired you to actually go into this and just for some context pick up originally started as Moto Taxis, right?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah, I started back with Moto Taxis, but maybe would it be better if we go a little more back in time, before Picap.

Jonathan Calmus: Tell me. Let’s do it.

Daniel Rodriguez: I built a company called Smart Taxi, which was a ride hailing about using taxis. And we launched that company after a year that the other players did. So the massive market was already crowded. So we decided to focus on the corporate segment. And we did well on that segment that the company started to transfer employees for companies like Coca Cola and the biggest companies in our country.

But after a couple of years working on the company, the market has started to change because other companies arrived to Colombia.

Jonathan Calmus: Big players. Yeah.

Daniel Rodriguez: Exactly. And they were not doing taxis but not my cars. And at the beginning I was thinking that maybe something was going to happen because we have seen in the past that the taxi drivers and the taxi owner, they have the power to make the government to do something about it. But at this time I saw that nothing was going to happen. So I started to talk to myself like, we have to look to the future and try something else. So that’s how Picap start. We decided to build a product to transfer people. But using motorbikes

Jonathan Calmus: Which I love. As an American It’s such a foreign idea to me. I know it’s in other parts of the world. Asia is very big and India uses it, which is also part of Asia. But it’s kind of its own market. India and most of Asia uses it, but seeing Picap in its manifestation of taking such an old idea. The coast cities from what I understand in Columbia, have been using Motor Taxis forever, like Barranquilla and places like that?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah. The Motor Taxi is something really old. What we started to do was to formalize the business and to bring it to the main cities.

Jonathan Calmus: It’s great. I think it’s really cool. What do you think led to that inspiration? Why takes such a big jump from taxis to Motor taxis and now?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, actually at the Smart Taxi, me and my partner, I met him at Smart Taxi. We used to ask the delivery guy of the company to pick us up to do something when we were running out of time and we saw that that worked. So we decided to build the product to everyone. We created the first MVP that was in 2017.

Jonathan Calmus: Okay.

Daniel Rodriguez: And at the beginning of 2018, we had a lot of drivers and passengers. And at the beginning we were a little scared of the government because we have seen that the government has put tickets to all the ride sharing companies. And so we were a little scared because me and my partner, we didn’t have the money to pay a ticket.

Jonathan Calmus: To pay a fine.

Daniel Rodriguez: But the business has started to grow and after a couple of months of launching we met our first angel investor. He is someone who has done a similar business in Bangladesh actually. And he also was our advisor. He said, don’t be afraid let’s build the business, just focus on growing and in the future you will find what you have to do and that’s what we did.

Jonathan Calmus: Has regulation being a big issue for you guys? I mean this is always a question that we’re asked as well at Cosmetic.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yes it is. But it is actually one of the things that I want—but we like it the most because when we launch Picap there were big players here doing ride sharing. And we know that we could build something that could seem like something like kind of illegal but it is not, it is great. So we knew that we were going to have all the attention of the newspapers, radio, television news, and that what we did.

So we did that on purpose because we didn’t have the money that the big players had. So this is something, a little window that we found.

Jonathan Calmus: Exploited. Great.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Calmus: That’s the start-up way. Were there ever times that you were questioning if you were taking the right approach? Did you ever have any doubts?

Daniel Rodriguez: Of course. I think.

Jonathan Calmus: I baited you. I knew that, that was the answer, but I had to ask the question anyway.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, I think this is something that we has entrepreneurs, we are asking the whole time. The first time that I quit to my first formal job up to here with everything that I’m doing, we are all the times asking us that question.

Jonathan Calmus: Are you familiar with the term called
Imposter syndrome? You know what that is?

Daniel Rodriguez: No.

Jonatan Calmus: Imposter syndrome is when you feel like you’re an imposter in the room, kind of. And there’s a lot of cases. Oprah Winfrey had talked about this. Steve Jobs have talked about this. That kind of, no matter how big or how many talents and skills you have or even how good you are at execution. In the back of our heads, we always kind of feel like, am I doing the right thing? Am I the right person? Will they find out I’m not the right person? And all of those types of thoughts. Does that resonate with you a little bit? Do you ever have those types of?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, it happens all the time, but what I know is that the best things that I can do is to take any risk.

Jonathan Calmus: To just keep doing it?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, exactly. I have a method for that I like to tell and it’s that you cannot wait inside your house waiting for all this lights, to be green, to get out.

Jonathan Calmus: All of the light to turn green.

Daniel Rodriguez: Exactly. All the lights to be in green. But the best way is just go out and you’ll find the best way to go to your place.

Jonathan Calmus: I’m sure you know they say that most of success is simply showing up. I think they say 80% of success is just showing up. Just be there.

Daniel Rodriguez: Exactly.

Jonathan Calmus: Be out of the environment. Many times, I think all of us, myself included, were looking for that perfect opportunity and perfect opportunities are created. It’s by seeing the trends and the patterns and being exposed to it all. So that when the time comes for the perfect opportunity, you actually know what it is and you can kind of sense the market before there is a market. And I think that’s kind of what you’re saying is just go and do it, get out.

Daniel Rodriguez: Exactly. Just do something and something will happen, no more wait.

Jonathan Calmus: What’s your favourite project that’s not business related? What’s something that you worked on maybe in university or maybe with a family member? Doesn’t necessarily have to be for the purpose of gaining money. Just something you really remember enjoying doing.

Rodriguez: What I am doing the most right now it is spending time with my little daughter.

Jonathan Calmus: You have a daughter?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, she is one year old and I like it a lot. Because everything that I tried to teach here, she learns so fast, so I’m impressed.

Jonathan Calmus: It’s crazy. I always think back on my previous self and I’m almost jealous of how fast I was able to learn as a child. For a reason I think part of it is the formative years, so everything is processing really fast. But I think also it’s, we’re less risk adverse when we’re younger.

I’ll give you a nice story. We went skiing with my father. He would take us once a year to a place in California called Big Bear, myself and my sister. And one year I was the hero. Every mountain that there was to ski. I said, yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it. And my sister who’s a few years older than me, she’s like, no, no, that’s not for me, I’m not getting on that guy. And literally one year later after whatever happened in my life, I was scared I didn’t want to do it anymore.

And a big portion of, as you said, running a start-up, hopefully getting to the point of success, is just taking the risk. Is just putting yourself in a position that says no matter what happens, it’s all going to be the same. And I at least I tried, at least I left the house and I didn’t wait for all of the lights to turn green. That’s really nice.

What’s some advice you would tell a new entrepreneur? How does someone actually take the type of risk that you’re taking?

Daniel Rodriguez: An advice? I will go again and where we were talking before and it is, to start something it is not just about being smart, it is not about building up business plan, it is not about making connections. Because actually going back to Smart Taxi, we were transporting employee for the biggest companies and I didn’t know no one there. And I realized that, hey, how we did that?

And we did a job working and build and test. Build and test and doing that cycle as fast as possible.

Jonathan Calmus: Where did you learn that? In Silicon Valley and start-up land, we call that the build measure learn feedback loop. Where did you pick that up? Because the culture is very different here. So did you have external mentors? Who taught you that form of thinking?

Daniel Rodriguez: No. I wish I had a mentor but I haven’t found it, at least here. But it was just trying to build something. When you build the first thing, the first thing it is probably it is going to fail.

Jonathan Calmus: Miserably. Usually.

Daniel Rodriguez: And it happened to me. I built like three or four or five businesses that are not working today. But with each of them I learned a lot and there is no better school, no better mentor than to learn that thing by yourself, like you being on the field fighting this thing. But yeah, and so yeah, I really learned it being on the field, trying to build companies, build businesses.

Jonathan Calmus: So anyone who’s listening should try to be applying, create the feedback loop, which is build, measure, learn. In other words what you said. But the real trick, the real magic, and I’ve been learning this for myself recently and observing other people that I admire, like Elon Musk talks about this a lot. The power is in shortening the learning time. If you can reduce the amount of time it takes you to learn the lesson and then apply the changes, that’s where you start getting exponential growth. And that’s really…

Daniel Rodriguez: And I have learned that also from reading and listening things. And that’s one of the things that I try to tell our team today. My conclusion today is that an entrepreneur is someone who can build a business. You’ve seen an Excel sheet and a WhatsApp account. And just that when you prove their business with that, you can tell an engineer team, to build.

Jonathan Calmus: Here’s the process that needs to be turned into tech. Yeah, that’s a really, really good point. What’s like a window into your daily life? How do you start your day? How do you end your day? Typical day in your life?

Daniel Rodriguez: When I was younger I used to work a lot and then after a couple of years just working, I realized that was not what I wanted to do my whole life. Yeah. I got really fat and some day now I looked at me in the mirror and I was like, Oh, I don’t want to be like that anymore. So I realized that I wanted to balance my life between everything.

So going to your question, the first thing that I want to do in the morning is just to go and do some exercise. Most of the time I’m at the gym. And after that I go back to my home and get ready to come to work. And most of the time working here I spend my time with the team. I ask myself who I should speak with today? Because one of the things that I have clear in my mind today is that what we have to do has leaders, it is to look for new leaders or to help others to become new leaders.

Jonathan Calmus: I love that you’re saying that.

Daniel Rodriguez: Because today we are working in almost ten markets and we are running more than one product and we cannot have everything in my head, all the strategy and everything. But what I can do is to find the right leaders in each place to build the company. So usually I’m in meetings the whole day and I finish my day at like around five, like a normal day. And I go back to play with my daughter, with my wife.

Jonathan Calmus: Do you return to work after your daughter goes to sleep? I know some people do that.

Daniel Rodriguez: If it’s something really urgent, I do. If not I don’t.

Jonathan Calmus: That’s where the day stops? Interesting. I think that a lot of people and until very, very recently, myself included. Believe that hours equals value and it just doesn’t. The more you work usually without the right type of focus, the less you get done in the long-term.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah. And also when you focus on only working, you start to lose the vision of everything. So it is really important for us as leaders to be quiet, to be balanced so we can have a better vision of the future of what we are building. So it is better not to be working the whole time. So it is better to be balanced.

Jonathan Calmus: It’s still working. This is what I think is interesting. The perception of work is like someone doing something right, labour. Whether it’s typing on a keyboard or if it’s physically building a building or whatever you’re doing. But the worldwide perspective and perception on work is labour, in some capacity. But when you’re at home, when you’re taking your shower and you’re thinking of new ideas, that’s work.

Daniel Rodriguez: And that’s where the best ideas…

Jonathan Calmus: And that’s where the best stuff comes from, totally. Because you’re in a more relaxed state. I read recently that the reason why the best ideas come from the shower is because it feels great. There’s no other distractions, there’s no cell phones, there’s no stimulus, there’s nothing like that. It’s just you and your thoughts in a moment that you feel very comfortable, hopefully. I actually love taking showers and I think a lot of people do too.

It’s one of the more relaxing phases. What time do you normally wake up? This is another…

Daniel Rodriguez: 6:00 AM.

Jonathan Calmus: That’s normal. I wake up around 6:00 AM too. These have been my—last few days I’ve been waking up a little later, but it’s because I’ve been ending my days a little later. Do you think that people need to be rigid with themselves? Do you think that they need to say, if I’m not up by five and if I’m not finishing work at 12 at night, I’m doing something wrong? You think that’s the right type of thinking?

Daniel Rodriguez: I will say again that it is about find the right balance. I mean the first thing that I have clear is that the most important thing is myself. So I have to asleep well, eat well.

Jonathan Calmus: When did you learn that? It’s literally taken me my entire career to learn this and I still, I know it intellectually, but I don’t always apply it.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah. When I was working the whole time, also weekends and I got fat and I realized that I needed to change my life. I took, felt this decisions like stop working the weekends, sleep seven hours eat four or five times a day.
It was that day.

Jonathan Calmus: That’s really, really important. My dad has a nice metaphor. I might’ve even said it on previous podcasts.

Daniel Rodriguez: If that’s like the. I mean, how would you say like the base of the building?

Jonathan Calmus: The foundation.

Daniel Rodriguez: The foundation of the building. If you have that good foundation.

Jonathan Calmus: The rest is easy.

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan Calmus: Yeah, it’s very true. The metaphor my dad uses is when you go on the plane, they say before you give the oxygen to the child, make sure you put the mask on your face on yourself. It took me so many years to learn why that’s important because it almost feels selfish sometimes. Part of, I think a lot of the types of start-up CEOs and leaders that I’ve met in my life in general. It feels like we’re very generous people and I don’t want to just say that to increase our egos. But really we’re starting something because we have a vision of other things happening outside of ourselves.

And so taking care of yourself, at least the way I interpreted taking care of myself almost feels selfish sometimes. Because it feels like I’m not giving enough to other people, but it’s not, it’s the reverse. If you’re not taking care of yourself, there’s no way you’re taking care of other people and no way helping them take care of themselves as well. It takes a lot of work and I think understanding to really grow into that type of person. But that’s beautiful. Let’s talk a little bit about your life growing up. You’re from Bogota. You were born and raised here?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yes. I’m from Bogota. I’ve lived my whole life here. I graduated from college. I have a college degree in electrical engineer and also in computer science. When I was going to graduate, I was like, hey, what am I going to do with do with these two degrees? So I decided to do work in a telecommunication company and I did. It was like two years and after that I decided that I wanted to do something really different. So I quit and I started to try the businesses that are not working today that we were talking before.

Jonathan Calmus: What were those failed businesses? What are the businesses that are not working?

Daniel Rodriguez: I was doing things for marketing doing cameras. You’ve seen the Xbox keynote at that time.

Jonathan Calmus: Oh, awesome.

Daniel Rodriguez: Then I started to build software for other companies. I built an agency to manage their social media for their companies. I also try to build a speed dating company.
I later realized that the device not going to a scale has I wanted to scale. And then I started Smart Taxi.

Jonathon Calmus: I’ve been seeing a pattern between all of us start-up guys. My background is really similar to yours. I was doing digital agencies and consulting and programming for hire. Recently I met the CEO of Ayenda, the exact same story. The CEO of Rappi and the cofounders from Rappi had a digital agency too. It’s almost like the learning with other people, how to do it for yourself to a certain degree.

The biggest struggle that I think a lot of early entrepreneurs deal with is the difference between the prototype and the production. And there’s such a big divide between a concept being turned into something one single person can use in the quote unquote laboratory versus how are we getting this in the hands of 10,000 people, 100,000 people, a million plus.

Do you have any feedback or any stories that you could say about the early days of your product before it was more mature and more stable?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, of course. I mean this is not something new. I have listened to this a couple of times and it is, we have to be hustling as possible. And I can tell you a funny story about us at the beginning. And it was that at the beginning we didn’t have a designer, the engineer team was only two person team which was my brother and I.

Jonathan Calmus: Those are the best team.

Daniel Rodriguez: So yeah. So what we did to be hustling has possible was to try to copy another AD work in another country that no one knows here. So we don’t have to deal with anything new on the route.

Jonathan Calmus: So you took…

Daniel Rodriguez: It was funny because we copied everything.

Jonathan Calmus: The complete thing?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah. We did reverse engineer to rebuild the application to get all the assets, images and so on. After we test the market, we hired our first designer to build our own sign.

Jonathan Calmus: Make it look unique to Picap. It’s really funny you say that. Most people do not feel comfortable doing that and almost every product from the smallest company to the biggest company has started in that way. When a new product is emerging out of Google, unless it’s pure and starting from literally zero, most of the time that laboratory product is a reverse engineered product. It’s something that they said, look I’m going to take a logo from here, a colour from there, this from here and make a button. And all of a sudden something is working.

Daniel Rodriguez: But if you’re an entrepreneur and you don’t have the money that the other player have, I mean this is way to do it something lean and to tell the market and to grow.

Jonathan Calmus: Totally. My version of that is I used to love doing WordPress sites, WordPress is so capable. It can do so many things. It can’t necessarily scale to hundreds of millions of users, but that’s not its intended purpose. It’s to do something quickly. Build an MVP, a prototype. And so we would do very, very similar—even today when we have ideas for new product lines, we start on WordPress before we go into code. It gets a little easier to kind of justify things in that capacity.

Daniel, thank you so much. This has been awesome It’s been great meeting you. Today is actually the first day we’re meeting each other. If you had to leave everyone with one thought, one idea or even one book to read, something that’s inspirational to you. What do you want people to take away from this?

Daniel Rodriguez: Yeah, I think that one book that has helped me a lot. The name could sound like an engineer book, but it is not really. And the name of the book is The Art of Doing Twice in the Half of Time And that book gave me a lot of ideas of how to build the MVPs and how to give examples to the team of how to build MVPs.

Jonathan Calmus: Awesome. Awesome. Really nice. Thank you so much, Daniel. Thank you for your time.

Daniel Rodriguez: Thanks so much.

Jonathan Calmus: To start riding with Picap or to become a driver in Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala or Chile.

You can download their apps in the Google play store and Apple app store or go to Picap.app . Again, that’s picap.app. If you’re interested in launching your own Shared Mobility Fleet, go to www.cosmicgo.co.